Chris Janus: bringing experience, passion to history class

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Chloe Ma

Chris Janus poses in front of murals that students painted for his AT Modern European History course in C125. “It felt good to have a physical example of the work we did in class,” Mr. Janus said. “It adds character and unique stories to each room.”

Caledonia Abbey, Reporter

Hundreds of years of hand-painted history adorn the walls of C125. From important dates of the Seven Years’ War to the impressionist movement coming out of France, many U-High students — decades’ worth — have spent class time unknowingly gazing upon a physical manifestation of Christopher Janus’ legacy at the school. 

Although he is retiring this year after 33 years at U-High, students will long remember Mr. Janus’s legacy of deepening the study of the social sciences in and outside the classroom using his rich background in economics, investment, and international relations. 

After first teaching AT Modern European History, Mr. Janus started what would become today’s AT Economics course. 

“I ran a small business class for basic things like renting, buying groceries and things like that,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘We have one of the best economics departments in the world at the University of Chicago and it’s just not right that the Lab School doesn’t have an economics class.’” 

Since then, the class has only grown in popularity. 

“It’s been very successful, not necessarily because of me, but because I think a lot of students and their parents recognize the importance of some economics,” he said.

Mr. Janus brought his interest in economics to Lab over from his previous career. Prior to teaching, Mr. Janus worked as an options trader in Chicago, where in between the highs and lows of the trading floor, he’d find time to go ice skating. 

His background as a trader has made the AT Economics course at U-High unique compared to other courses of the same nature.

Charles Disantis has taught the course alongside Mr. Janus for the past seven years. 

“In terms of economics I think he’s been really forward thinking in a lot of ways. The way we teach it, there’s a lot of emphasis on behavioral economics,” Mr. Disantis said. “Even now a lot of high school classes don’t really touch that, and a lot of college classes barely cover it. It’s a big thing in the field and he saw that a long time ago and started working with.”

To Mr. Janus, real world experience is the best teacher. He learned the value of independence studying in Europe and with the Peace Corps in Tunisia.

“What is really helpful has been living abroad and travelling on your own — I was very independent, and I think that’s important,” Mr. Janus said, “to be out there and be successful by yourself.” 

This sentiment has persisted through his work at Lab, where he launched the Humanities Summer Link program, which pairs U-High students with internships at a number of prominent companies, financial institutions and with University of Chicago professors. 

“It’s hard for high school interns,” he said, “but the good thing about it is that once they actually accept the Lab School students, they often discover that they are quite capable of competing with the college students, but you’ve got to get your foot in the door.” 

He’s a very enthusiastic teacher. He’s also very straightforward and honest. He wasn’t afraid to give constructive criticism and would never sugarcoat.”

— Ramsey Radwan

In between teaching, launching Summer Link and advising the Finance Club, Mr. Janus also coached a now-defunct chess team, which once placed ninth in the nation after attending the championships on a whim. 

For his students, the Janus mythology lives on. 

“He’s a great teacher who is very intelligent and always had the best stories to tell,” said senior Marcus Chang, who had him for AT Economics and AT Modern European History, “from his dog Batchee to having a Disney movie made after his family.” 

For senior Ramsey Radwan, who also served as the president of Finance Club, Mr. Janus’ pragmatic approach was very helpful.

“He’s a very enthusiastic teacher. He’s also very straightforward and honest. He wasn’t afraid to give constructive criticism and would never sugarcoat,” Ramsey said. “This obviously helped me improve a lot in many areas.” 

While he may no longer be seen walking the halls of U-High, Mr. Janus’ more than three decades  of teaching will continue to impact the lives of students.